Irina Nistor

The stereotypes of film nerds aren’t exactly positive: secretive, obsessive, quiet. But, these are all great traits for someone fighting, in their own way, against a tyrannical regime, wouldn’t you agree?

Irina Nistor was employed by the Romanian Communist regime to translate programmes for the state-run tv channel. Romania was ruled by Nicolae Ceausescu, one of the cruelest dictators of the communist period. Her impact on the falling of that regime can never be measured, but thousands of Romanians believe her role in the fall of communism in Romania should be not be overlooked. What Irina Nistor did was translate western films into Romanian. A simple but very much illegal job.

The role of film – and particularly film in your own language – to spread ideas was a powerful one. Unless a film was allowed by the government, it was contraband. Buying a VHS player was an expensive luxury that few could afford, and people put on film nights in crowded living rooms across Romania, to watch smuggled video.

Nistor translated thousands of western films into Romanian. She would sit in a basement with two TVs, a VCR and a microphone and dub films in Romanian for hours on end. She would often translate between six to eight films a night. Her first film was Doctor Zhivago – an adaptation of a book written by a Russian author and awarded a nobel prize for literature, but banned in Russia. If Irina Nistor was translating cartoons, she would bring her children to watch. The variety of films was immense, and she translated thousands over the four years of her work.

She played no part in the distribution, leaving this to her partner in crime, Teodor Zamfir, who initially recruited her for the role. Zamfir copied and sold the translated films, and dealers would re-copy and sell these on. The translated films reached the furthest corners of Romanian society, touching almost every community.

Thanks to Nistor’s work, Romanians had a brief glimpse into the possibilities, opportunities and freedoms of the western world. Films not dominated by ideology or rhetoric: films made for the love of film. She enabled people to understand the world outside of the iron curtain thanks to allowing people to hear films in their own language, in a voice of a person just like them.

Nistor didn’t realise the impact her films we’re having until the fall of communism. In a recent interview with the Guardian she said “It is interesting listening to people talk about the impact of those films, hearing people say it made their lives a little bit better during those years.” A modest reaction, when she was a woman who brought the first experiences of film to a generation under a repressive regime.

Today, Irina Nistor is a well known film-critic and runs the European Psychoanalytic Film Festival. Her voice is remembered for its work in providing relief to a suffering people, but her work doesn’t stop there. The film critic marches on.

Written for Sheroes of History by Miriam Steiner @ThatMiriam

Find out more…

The NY times made a  fascinating short about how watching Irina’s translated videos impacted many living in communist Romania: watch here.

The film Chuck Norris vs Communism, which came out in 2015 is a feature film about Irina and her illegal videos. It’s available on Netflix and you can watch the trailer here:


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